There are many websites and podcasts extolling the benefits of float therapy, especially for fibromyalgia. Few discuss the actual details of what to do in the tank to turn spending time in a float tank into float therapy. These details appear to be significant if not essential in the scientific studies that provide positive evidence for the benefits of floating in a pod or tank. In a series of six articles I cover the important details that make spending time in a float tank therapeutic. These details enabled me to finesse my use of float therapy to massively impact how I experienced fibro.
Float therapy has a well documented pain relieving effect. However, the studies demonstrating this effect relate to trials conducted in university psychology laboratories. When you go to a recreational float centre you need to be aware of how those studies achieved those benefits, and what you need to do at your local centre to achieve comparable results.
The danger of not learning how to distinguish float therapy from having a session in a float tank is simple. The benefit you usually get when you go to a local centre is a “taking the edge off” effect. You can see examples of this by searching on Youtube. Those benefits are of course welcome. But rarely would they be the sort of thing that would justify a commitment to a program of floating that can relieve you of your fibro suffering. Another issue the float industry appears unable to grasp is that for many fibromyalgia sufferers, their first float, and maybe a couple after that, might not go well. Gleaning the details from the published studies done in Sweden can help fibro sufferers to understand this is a probable outcome, and will soon pass.
Float therapy as a treatment for fibromyalgia
So if you are looking beyond temporary pain relief, and are hoping for improved cognitive confidence, there are flotation therapy protocols worth considering. One such protocol for fibromyalgia, used by the Karlstad University’s high performance psychology laboratory, is twelve months long. It involves floating at least every fortnight, and 8 psychotherapy sessions across the year. The exact structure of the psychotherapy sessions are almost impossible to replicate. To obtain similar results you will need to employ compatible self-help methods or find a suitable psychotherapist or counsellor.
The next 5 articles cover the key issues you need to optimise in the float session part of a treatment program if you are shooting for the lab level results at your local float centre. They are:
- What to do in the tank while floating
- How long and often to float.
- Maximising silence during your float,
- What to do before and after your float.
- Managing medication for optimal results,
Like any other technique, float therapy is a skill you develop to get the benefits. Like other skills it often helps to know why you should invest your energy, time and finances in it, and what to expect as you progress. The evidence that floating is beneficial for pain and stress has been accumulating over several decades, mostly recently at the University of Karlstad in Sweden. Since 1999 they have published many articles detailing the effect floating has for people with chronic pain and stress issues. They have learnt that a program of floating, especially in combination with counselling, often leads to a recovery spiral of better health and wellbeing.
The Spiral of Revitalisation
This spiral works by first stopping, then reversing the spiral of degeneration familiar to most long-time sufferers of fibro. You probably recognise how the degenerative spiral gets going. Chronic stress is often accompanied by chronic pain. That becomes an important trigger in the spiral because one way or another, regardless of what comes first — chronic pain or chronic stress — if you suffer from one, it is likely that within a few years you will be plagued by both. The experience of ongoing musculoskeletal pain and stress more often than not, is accompanied by feelings of anxiety and melancholy, especially as the stress of a chronic life keeps stacking up over the years. Sleep is often already sub-optimal with pain and stress. Depressed mood can give rise to constant rumination while lying awake in bed, and hence, less sleep and poorer quality sleep.
When float therapy reduces pain and stress it starts a spiral of recovery that reverses the degenerative spiral. This non-medicated reduction in pain from floating leads to a noticeable easing of anxiety and depression. Diminishing depression especially, will often lead to a reduction in the time it takes to get to sleep. All the ruminating that keeps you from nodding off is often an outcome of depressed mood, and a lot less ruminating often improves the quality of your sleep.
An improvement in sleep quality further reduces depression and anxiety. Then the next time you float you are able to relax a little further, and this leads to further reductions in pain. The spiral continues on with improvement in sleep and the reduction in stress, pain, anxiety and depression. Studies have consistently shown a program of float therapy reduces pain, stress, depression and often anxiety.
The person who systematically floats can start to feel this deeper relaxation and spiral of rejuvenation around their 10th float. Studies involving 20 or more floats often show marked reductions in dependence on medication, something that is often important to people who have been on a fibro drug cocktail/trial/experiment for 10 or more years. Hopefully this lets you know more clearly the benefits that accrue if you start developing your floating skill.
You already know enough to learn to float well
Float therapy is not a particularly difficult skill to develop, especially if you work through the five issues listed above. If you have been coping with fibro or some other chronic stress-related disorder for more than seven years, you already have a wealth of knowledge and experience with different therapies. You already know how your body reacts to various treatments from physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, massage and various physical activity and exercise regimes. You will know how effective a spectrum of supplements have been for you, which formulations and brands have some affect, which have no effects, and those that have a deleterious effect. All that knowledge and experience will help you to refine your floating skill in short order.
Your local float centre is likely to be a recreational float centre or day spa — or a Wellness Centre. These centres cannot be like the psychology laboratories where float research has been conducted since the 1960s, and we would not want them to be. Nevertheless, you can still aim for the lab level benefits from your floating. The closer you get, the better off you will be. You will have plenty of assistance as float centre people tend to be very genuine and willing to help people float well. If you decide to give it a go, be thoughtful about how you develop your skill, experiment a little, and most importantly be patient for the benefits to flow.
Please seek medical advice if you are going to use the information provided here to treat a medical condition. I am not a doctor. This series is for information purposes only. It explains what I did to stop suffering from fibromyalgia after more than 20 years of misery. It has been published because for many people details from the scientific research that allowed me to make the breakthrough can be difficult to access and identify